Animal Rights Conference 2010
Three weeks ago I attended the 2010 Animal Rights Conference near my city (D.C.); it was essentially vegan. I was worried that the conference would be too mainstream and thus not very self-critical, and it seemed only perhaps slightly less mainstream than I expected. Nevertheless, it improved my appreciation for mainstream AR. People are doing a lot of good work, and it was good to hear from people out there working in shelters and working to stop unnecessary hunting, as opposed to merely facts recited by those who’ve heard from others who’ve recited about someone else’s reports, etc.
It was also pretty energizing to be around so many other activists who care about animals. This was my first conference of this sort, so I can’t compare to others. I saw a lot of people I already knew, but I didn’t meet that many new people, unfortunately. That’s partly because I wasn’t there for the entire conference and during the late evening mingling hours, and didn’t stay in the hotel. I did meet one activist who I hope to keep up with (at the networking workshop, no less) and some bloggers I knew, but didn’t get to talk to very much. I reckon staying longer would have helped, as well as perhaps following the example of an attendee who actively decided to meet me. Since this was my first conference, maybe the next one will work out better as I’ll know more what to expect and go in with more purpose.
While I’m on the topic of people, I want to say that this event was definitely very white, just as I’ve heard. A lot of punk and creatively-styled people (very unusual to see so many around D.C.!!!), and people who could be stereotyped as queer women, all white. There were definitely some non-white people there, and Sistah Vegan on sale, but one moment when I looked around the only black people I saw were two women at some table that was definitely not an AR organization. They may not have even been interested in AR, for all I know, but I never got around to talking to them. Anyway, this is a bit disconcerting as over 50% of the D.C. population is African American.
Prior to this, the biggest related events I’d been to were D.C. VegFest and a winter holiday party in 2009, I had been involved with a local vegan organization, and I had organized some talks at my university. So this was quite a new experience for me, attending what is probably the largest meeting of AR activists and vegans in the world. The cool thing about a lot of these events is that a limited number of people can volunteer for free/cheaper registration, which I did for both the aforementioned holiday party and the conference. (Of course, the downside is that it’s still pricey for most people, unlike the Critical Animal Studies Conference, which last time was only $15.)
I decided that I wanted to register for the conference when I saw that some of the workshops addressed a topic I had been thinking about a lot at that time: wildlife. I went to a few of those, which were mostly an offering of facts and basic descriptions of the problem and the panelists’ activism. As it turned out, my favorite events of the 11 or so I attended were Fund Raising, Promoting on the Internet, and Zoe Weil’s talk on Humane Education.
I had been to a fund raising workshop before with the Washington Peace Center and was unimpressed, so I was hoping to finally hear some good advice, and I did. The two speakers I remember were Dr. Gary Weitzman who founded the Washington Animal Rescue League and Lorri Houston from Animal Acres. Weitzman (who also spoke at the Sunday morning plenary) told an inspiring story of how he raised millions of dollars to build a new shelter that would take in animals who were on the kill-list of other shelters. He had a platform built over the space so he could throw a fund raising party and then ask donors if they could make a 5-year pledge of the same amount they offered at the party. Potential donors he mentioned include people at conferences like this, local businesses, politicians, prominent local wealthy people (ha), etc.
One of the first things Lorri Houston said was, “Never be afraid to ask [for help] for the animals,” because that’s who this is really about, not ourselves (we do need to reflect on the non-profit industrial complex, but I couldn’t say these two panelists were part of that). Here are some tips she offered:
-The holiday season is a good time for donations.
-Create a sense of urgency. (I agree: There are a million important things in the world, but we really only act on what is personally urgent for us, regardless of whether or not it is important.)
-Have a distinct donor club.
-Call one-time donors.
-Be communicative – use e-alerts and newsletters.
-Have a website.
Then there was Promoting on the Internet, which frankly I only wanted to go to because Stephanie Ernst was on the panel. I had a volunteer shift halfway through, so I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I filmed her talk, but unfortunately it seems that I lost my transfer cable while moving (because I’m always moving), so I will have to wait until I get a new one to post that. I will also reserve my comments on it until then, but suffice it to say that it was totally worth it. Stephanie also later redeemed an event we both attended on networking when Dawn Moncrief asked her to comment at the end. One of the speakers seemed to have forgotten what the workshop topic was and got off-topic. Stephanie added that part of networking is for our own sanity.
Zoe Weil, founder of the Institute for Humane Education, had a longer talk, all to herself. She started off by talking about the meaning of education, which is not indoctrination, but to teach others to educate themselves. She differentiates between trying to change people and trying to educate them.
Which brings me to what I realized were my favorite moments of the conference: the ones where I heard speakers asking us to think critically, not just about others (i.e., the evil hunters), but about our own actions, views, and movement. I heard this in Stephanie’s talk, obviously Zoe Weil’s, and at least one or two of the plenary speeches. That said, I think that some of these calls to self-critique (i.e. in plenary speeches) were minimal despite not necessarily being very new, but that is why I say that it was only at most slightly less mainstream than expected. There were definitely people across the animal advocacy spectrum to be seen there, but a lot if not most of the speakers definitely struck me as mostly action and too little introspection. For example, the Indian woman who made a sweeping statement about the Hindu stance on cattle slaughter that I had just read a rigorous critique of in Animal Geographies. There were also a number of speakers, including Bruce Friedrich, who talked about “ending animal suffering forever,” which sounds a bit absurd if taken literally, and certainly seems to place non-humans in an entirely passive role.
Nevertheless, I’m really glad I went to this conference. I learned a lot from the best events and got to see what this major conference is like. I definitely saw that it’s a great networking event, with a central table where new fliers/handouts just kept appearing, not to mention all the exhibitors. Way preferable to the social justice unconference I went to in January, which was an unorganized mess, to be honest. I am now even more eager to attend future animal-related conferences when I get a chance. It would be a great way for anyone with new ideas to get their message out, whether at the Animal Rights Conference or another.